Total Transparency: Making an Open Book of Your Worklife

“Even the oldest trees aren’t ashamed to stand naked.” — Marty Rubin, American author.

Total Transparency: Making an Open Book of Your Worklife by Laura Stack #productivityHow transparent is your organization? Does every person in every department have a working knowledge of the organization’s goals, mission and vision, and core values? Perhaps your organization even practices a more radical transparency, where any employee can check the monthly numbers, read board meeting minutes, and review proposed policy changes. Some companies also provide access to their capital structure and strategy, stress collaborative decision-making—and even make everyone’s salary a matter of public record.

This type of corporate-level transparency seems to result in a happier, more productive workforce overall—a lesson to take to heart if you happen to be a manager yourself. People are more likely to take ownership of their jobs when they understand how they fit into the corporate structure, why their work matters, and how it moves the company forward as a whole. Even if the effect is minor, remember the old “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” rule. Small collaborative efforts spread over long periods, or shared with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other workers, can really add up. All those inexpensive burgers and fries at McDonald’s built it into a fast food empire, one Happy Meal at a time.

Personal Transparency

And how about you? Do you carry forward this spirit of transparency in your own work? Let’s look at some areas where transparency can boost your individual and collective productivity.

1. Data. Unless you’re working on a secret project, don’t “silo” your data so other people can’t get at it. If siloing has occurred because of electronic or mechanical incompatibilities, make every effort to get that data out into the open. Not only will doing so make your job easier, it’ll make other people’s jobs easier (also making life easier for you, since you don’t have to hunt it up and produce it for them). If you have templates or checklists that will help others save time, share them! It will come back to you in the end.

2. Your schedule. Change your calendar permissions so that everyone in the company can see your daily schedule. This helps people check your availability before giving you a call or heading for your office, only to find you’re out of town or in a long meeting. People can send you meeting requests to get some time on your schedule, cutting down on unplanned interruptions.

3. Your projects. Keep people informed about what you’re working on, and let them know you’re open for ideas and suggestions. If you count on someone for information or some other link in a productivity chain, make absolutely sure they know your success depends on theirs.

4. Your strategic knowledge. Rather than waiting for your manager to pass along your organization’s strategy documents, take the initiative and dig it up the information yourself. Have a meeting with your manager to tie your goals into her goals, so you can capitalize on the company’s strategy and better exercise your empowerment.

5. Your progress. Don’t keep wondering how well your team or division is doing. If your company hasn’t already implemented transparency in this area, urge them to do so. When you can easily view and own team or organizational performance metrics, you can adjust your schedule or approach to boost productivity in problem areas. If you’re not doing as well as you’d wish, call up the top performers and ask to take them to lunch. Share your success secrets with your colleagues when given an opportunity as well. What comes around, goes around.

6. Your communications. If you’re unhappy, say so. You don’t have to be aggressive or nasty, but don’t beat around the bush and smile off your frustrations. Be honest and forthright in your communications, so the problem doesn’t fester. Tell them what you’d like to see happen the next time to avoid any problems. When you’re impressed with others’ work, let them know that, too.

Helping Them Helps You

Most of the points I’ve outlined here may seem to be more for the benefit of your teammates than for you yourself, but as the saying goes, “Helping you helps me,” or “A rising tide lifts all boats.” When your approach to work is as clear and as readable as an open book, all benefit—and your own productivity goes up and stress goes down. Always be transparent, which will allow people to trust you to do what you promise, give what you can, and provide access to anything that’s not sensitive. In the office, nice people really can finish first. As the late Zig Ziglar pointed out, you can have whatever you want—as long as you help other people get what they want.

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Rest Your Way to Success: The Value of Productive Relaxation

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” — Chinese proverb.

Rest Your Way to Success:  The Value of Productive Relaxation by Laura Stack #productivityWhen I first read that the average American worker left 9.2 vacation days unused in 2012—three more than the year before!—I was shocked, but not surprised. Even in the waning days of the Great Recession, workers were still overstretched. They worried about taking all the time they were owed, lest they be replaced with hungrier workers while gone. Even today, half of us expect to work during vacations, and a third of us eat at our desks.

It might be nice to return to the old days, when office life seemed easier, but I doubt that will happen. The business world is normalizing at a new level, one based on agility, speed, flexibility, and on-the-spot execution. This means that things will never be the same, and we have to adjust to that.

However, that doesn’t mean the change will kill us. In fact, most indicators suggest we have the opportunity to become more creative and productive than ever, just by taking it easier on ourselves. That assumes, of course, you can figure out how to dial it down again, especially if you’ve become an adrenaline/caffeine junkie who feels nervous and useless when not furiously busy.

Self-Protection

The phrase that pays is strategic renewal. This includes taking more restful days off, taking full advantage of breaks to eat, play, and interact socially, and keeping evenings and weekends for yourself. Some experts, like Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project, even advocate afternoon naps, meditation, lunchtime workouts, telecommuting, and other practices that won’t fly in most organizations. His employees get no less than four paid weeks of vacation from their first year, along with the above energy perks and workdays ending at 6 P.M. sharp. In February 2013, he claimed that in a decade, no one had ever chosen to leave his company.

The question here is: what will your superiors allow you to do in terms of strategic renewal? We already know that beyond 40 hours a week, productivity drops and engagement sours. More than 11 hours a day increases risks of coronary events by two-thirds. Depression skyrockets, and so does insomnia. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, how can you do your best work?

You can’t. Being in tip-top productivity shape requires regular recharging. Studies have proven that well-rested people do more and better work. Point this out to your manager if she’s grouchy about you taking all your PTO and your weekends.

Here’s another interesting point. You may know your body runs on a 90-minute sleep cycle at night, and that you feel best when awakened at the end of a cycle than in the middle. Newer research demonstrates that the same is true of daytime activity: you function best in 90-minute time-chunks, which is why our attention often wonders after an intense spate of work or during long meetings. As it turns out, we humans are like quarter horses: we’re made for short, intense sprints followed by substantial rest periods. Your brain and body want to you take a break—and they especially want you to sleep regularly.

I have a writer friend who has boosted his productivity by learning to relax and pace himself. He’s self-employed, so he sets his own hours; though as he says, his boss is a real jerk who makes him work 14 hours a day, six days a week! But the fact is, his 14-hour days are punctuated with two breaks at lunch and dinner, each two hours long, when he eats, reads, and runs errands. Saturday is his dedicated day off. His to-do lists typically consist of 12-16 items daily, which is stretching it—but he always gives himself plenty of time to complete every project, rarely procrastinates, and includes items that can drop off the list if time runs out.

Today, he’s accomplishing more than before, with far less stress and better sleep habits than ever before. There was a time he refused to take unscheduled client calls because they interfered with his productivity; now he takes them anytime, and if necessary, cuts a low-priority item from his list to make time. He’s still more productive than ever.

So relax. You’ll do fine if you take time for yourself, and occasionally add a little change of pace to your work schedule. The old saying “a change of work can be as refreshing as a period of relaxation” definitely has validity.

Keeping It to Yourself: Five Things a Wise Manager Never Delegates

“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” — Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States.

Keeping It to Yourself: Five Things a Wise Manager Never Delegates by Laura Stack #productivity #leadershipAs a leader, you know you must delegate many of the tasks for which you’re ultimately responsible, if you’re to be successful in meeting your goals. You know you can’t do it all yourself. Typically, under-delegation is more common than over-delegation, and most leaders should give more away.

That said, there are some things leaders should never delegate. Some tasks obviously shouldn’t be delegated, such as the combination for the safe containing the bank’s gold bullion, or the passwords to critical organizational computer files; however, sometimes it’s less clear-cut, and it’s hard to determine what to keep for yourself.

Ironically, the things you shouldn’t delegate tend not to be things like codes, combinations, or keys. Intangibles like team building, discipline, and praise are the things you can least afford to delegate to someone else. (Click the link to tweet this)

The Top Five
Nothing short of an entire book would be sufficient to discuss completely all the critical elements smart managers don’t delegate. So here’s a quick primer of the top five things I believe smart leaders should never delegate. Please use the comment box to add the items you’d include on your list!

Here’s how I’d rank them:

1. Talent management should always be one of your top priorities. Whether your team consists of just a handful of workers, a full division, or the whole company, you’re responsible for getting the right people in the right places. Take a hands-on approach to recruiting and selecting new hires, especially those for crucial positions. Once you have someone on board, continue to mold and shape them with training, team culture, motivation, and any other tools at hand to ensure they fit as seamlessly as possible into the team. You’ll find this an endless process, especially as your team evolves to match changes in the industry and emerging trends you can barely see.

2. Mission, vision, and core values also help you shape the team. While you may be part of a larger organization that has already set these guidelines, you still have to make sure everyone knows what they are, how to apply to them, and how to shape their productivity in the right direction. You don’t have to harp on them, but do keep them in mind and adjust course as often as necessary.

3. Praise and incentives. If you asked 100 workers what they wanted more of at work, many would say more money—but not all. Praise, and the knowledge that leadership is taking notice of achievements, works surprisingly well toward encouraging discretionary input and employee engagement. Don’t over-praise, but don’t hold back when it’s justified and don’t hesitate to add other incentives if you need to.

4. Discipline. Remember the old Cheers episode where Norm was appointed the Corporate Axe, the guy tasked with firing long-term employees? He got the job because his superiors lacked the guts to do it themselves. Don’t be like Norm’s bosses. If someone on your team fouls up, handle the task of disciplining them yourself. Be straight and upfront with them, whether putting them on a corrective action plan, suspending them, or firing them. I’ve heard of one fellow who had just relocated thousands of miles, whose boss left it for a middle-manager—not even the employee’s supervisor!—to fire him while the boss was on vacation. Not only was this tasteless, the company came close to being sued because of the way the boss handled the situation.

5. Succession training. No matter how healthy you are, someday you’ll either retire, die, leave the company, or suffer a long-term illness. It’s up to you to look over the field of candidates, decide who can take your place when you’ve gone, and actively mentor that person. Unless your company’s succession plan is written in stone or someone higher up fills the empty slots, find at least one go-getter and groom them to take over, just in case something happens to you.

Keep the Ball Rolling

While you may not directly do the work that generates the profit, leaders are the guiding hand that ensures those who do earn the profit work together in the most efficient way possible. You’re the driver of your group and the shaper of skills, attitudes, and culture that weld a group of individuals into a working team. Never forget your intangible responsibilities. You can delegate almost anything else, but these are foremost among the things that you do best to make your organization the most successful.